New U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday issued an order overturning an Obama administration ban on the controversial use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on federal lands and waters, in a nod to hunters and fishermen on his first day on the job.
…President Barack Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service had issued the lead ban on Jan. 19, one day before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to protect birds and fish from lead poisoning. The move was met with sharp criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which called it Obama’s “final assault on gun owners’ and sportsmen’s rights” [Valerie Volcovici, “New Interior Head Lifts Lead Ammunition Ban in Nod to Hunters,” Reuters via KELO Radio, 2017.03.02].
Lead is a metal with no known biologically beneficial role, and its use in gasoline, paint, pesticides and solder in food cans has nearly been eliminated. Although lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for upland hunting, shooting sports and in fishing tackle remains widespread.
The most significant hazard to wildlife is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers, lead tackle and related fragments, or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets or fragments.
Dr. Barnett Rattner, USGS contaminant expert comments, “The magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons, is daunting. For this reason, on July 1, 2008, the state of California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California condor because the element poses such a threat to this endangered species” [USGS National Wildlife Health Center, “Concerns Rise over Known and Potential Impacts of Lead on Wildlife,” updated 2016.05.19, retrieved 2017.03.02].
USGS is under Secretary Zinke now. We’ll see if their online information on wildlife lead poisoning meets the Trump scrubber.
What looks like a much bigger kink in Azarga’s hose is the NRC’s ruling that Azarga must cap around 7,500 existing boreholes from previous uranium mining activity on the Dewey-Burdock site. Dakota Rural Action, which opposes Azarga’s mining plan, is pleased:
If these holes were not plugged and mining occurred, there would be a high risk of water contamination outside the mining area. According to research by an expert witness in the case, Dr. Hannan LaGarry, there are approximately 7,500 old boreholes on the proposed mine site. “I’m heartened to see the NRC is holding firm on the requirement that the company plug the 7,500 old boreholes,” said Gena Parkhurst of Dakota Rural Action, Black Hills Chapter. “Based on expert opinion, the proposed uranium mine in the area of the Fall River/Custer county border could seriously threaten our precious water supplies – there could be both contamination and depletion of our aquifers” [Dakota Rural Action, press release, 2016.12.23].
The California Energy Commission has passed sweeping energy-efficiency standards for computers and monitors in an effort to reduce power costs, becoming the first state in the nation to adopt such rules.
The standards require computers and monitors to draw less power while idling. These changes will cut residential power usage by 3%, commercial power usage by 7%, and greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel-burning power plants by 700,000 tons a year. The electricity saved is enough to power all the homes in San Francisco and San Luis Obispo counties, about 350,000 homes. If we assume proportionate computer and power usage in South Dakota, those standards would save enough electricity to power Roberts and Oglala Lakota counties, or our thirteen smallest counties (Miner, Faulk, Sanborn, Potter, Jerauld, Mellette, Haakon, Buffalo, Campbell, Hyde, Sully, Harding, and Jones), or almost all of Lawrence County.
These standards will come to South Dakota and everywhere else, because, as with Texas and textbooks, as goes California on technology, so goes the nation:
But the rules could have a much wider impact on the US. California is a massive market for technology, with an estimated 25 million computer monitors, 21 million desktop computers, and 23 million notebooks currently being used in the state. In many cases, a manufacturer will find it more economical to meet California’s standards for all products it sells in the US than to create an energy efficient version of its products for California and an less-energy-efficient version of its products for the rest of the US [Megan Guess, “California Adopts First Energy-Efficiency Standards for PCs in US,” Ars Technica, 2016.12.15].
By 2021, the commission estimates, the new rules will make the cost of each desktop about $14 more expensive, but consumers would save more than $55 over five years in reduced energy bills.
Monitors will cost about $5 more but are expected to lead to $30 in savings over seven years, the commission said. It said that laptops will cost about $1 more, but that energy savings in four years will be more than $2 [Nikolewski, 2016.12.15].
Federal environmental policy is about to fall apart, but we can still look to smart states like California to drive positive energy and environmental policy.
I know a nine-degree day in Aberdeen is not the best day to talk about global warming. I should have posted on climate change on November 5, when I was campaigning door-to-door on my bike in a t-shirt and shorts.
But Brookings Institution author Mark Muro notes that renewable energy has less to do with this decoupling of carbon emissions and economic growth than to fracking and (Merry Christmas, Dr. McTaggart) nuclear power!
The single largest driver of emissions reductions, according to Muro, is the shift from coal to natural gas, a result of the recent fracking boom. This is particularly true in the Northeastern states, which are generating more power from natural gas while also importing hydroelectric power from Canada.
Zero-emissions nuclear power plants, while not as prevalent, also played a role in pushing down emissions. In the Northeast, nuclear plants were responsible for 35 percent of electricity generation in 2014, the most of any region, according to Brookings. A slew of Southern states also experienced sizable expansions, such as North Carolina and Tennessee. Thirty-two states currently have at least a limited presence of nuclear power generation.
The study did not find a strong statistical relationship between states’ emissions reductions and use of wind or solar power generation. A select few Western states experienced sizable gains in wind generation. Still, though, the recent growth of renewables has yet to register as having a major effect on emissions nationally [Maciag, 2016.12.08].
That conclusion doesn’t say renewables are a waste of time; it just suggests that we haven’t used or expanded renewables enough for them to make a dent in emissions.
The main takeaway here is that policies to curb climate change and policies to promote jobs and GDP do not mutually exclude. We don’t have to go back to coal (and the market and China say we won’t) and send hip-waders to Florida to keep our economy humming.
Now hang in there—I’m sure we’ll get another warm spell over Christmas break.
P.S.: According to Maciag, South Dakota has reduced its carbon emissions since 2000 by 2.2% a year, the same rate as California, West Virginia, Indiana, and Wyoming. North Dakota, with all of its Bakken oil and gas production, leads the nation in carbon emission reductions at 5.5% a year.
Scientific American posed this question about biodiversity:
Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and many other products and services on which we depend every day. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity? [Christine Gorman, “What Do the Presidential Candidates Know about Science?” Scientific American, 2016.09.13].
Conserving biodiversity is essential to maintaining our quality of life. Healthy soils provide the foundation for agricultural productivity and help absorb carbon; wetlands soak up floodwaters and pollutants and protect our communities; forests filter our water and keep it clean; bees and other pollinators are essential to our food supply; and coral reefs and coastal marshes are nurseries for our fisheries. Although we have made considerable progress protecting our environment and conserving our natural resources, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, unsustainable management practices, introduction of invasive species and other forces pose serious threats to biodiversity and our way of life.
We need to collaborate across all sectors and at all levels to conserve our natural resources and maintain the viability of our ecosystems. I believe, for example, that we should be doing more to slow and reverse the decline of at-risk wildlife species before they reach the brink of extinction. That is why I will work to double the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program to help states, tribal nations, and local communities act earlier to conserve wildlife before they become threatened or endangered.
The 100th anniversary of our national park system is also an opportunity to re-energize America’s proud land and wildlife conservation traditions. I will establish an American Parks Trust Fund to scale up and modernize how we protect and enhance our natural treasures, and to better protect wildlife habitat across the country.
Internationally, we need greater cooperation to address declining biodiversity. My Administration will work collaboratively with other nations to advance biodiversity science, further our understanding of the causes of biodiversity loss, and take action to diminish them. We will share information about our conservation successes, including our national parks, fish and wildlife refuge systems, and marine reserves to aid other nations working to protect their natural resources and conserve biodiversity. And we will work collaboratively to end trafficking in wildlife and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that threatens our oceans [Hillary Clinton, in Gorman, 2016.09.13].
Reasonable? Long? Detailed? Wonky? Yes—welcome to the unglitzy world of practical governance.
By contrast, Donald Trump doesn’t say the word biodiversity in his response. His first three sentences aren’t even specific to the question:
For too long, Presidents and the executive branch of our federal government have continued to expand their reach and impact. Today, we have agencies filled with unelected officials who have been writing rules and regulations that cater to special interests and that undermine the foundational notion of our government that should be responsive to the people. Our elected representatives have done little to uphold their oaths of office and have abrogated their responsibilities. When these circumstances occur, there is an imbalance that rewards special interests and punishes the people who should benefit the most from the protection of species and habitat in the United States. In a Trump administration, there will be shared governance of our public lands and we will empower state and local governments to protect our wildlife and fisheries. Laws that tilt the scales toward special interests must be modified to balance the needs of society with the preservation of our valuable living resources. My administration will strike that balance by bringing all stakeholders to the table to determine the best approach to seeking and setting that balance [Donald Trump, in Gorman, 2016.09.13].
Apparently in Trumpworld, “biodiversity” is just a hobbyhorse of special interests who are keeping us from burning and eating “living resources.” The only faintly specific policy Trump offers—”shared governance” to “empower state and local governments” is faux-Republican code for deregulation and devolution of power to state legislatures bought up by ALEC. Clinton trumps Trump even on that point: among her multiple specifics, she speaks of genuinely empowering states, tribes, and local governments by doubling wildlife conservation grants.
Clinton talks about specific policy problems and solutions, the way a real President must; Trump grunts slogans and reveals the shallowness of his leadership.
One of the complaints against Senate Bill 136, the bipartisan grassy buffer strips bill that Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed last spring, was that the bill sponsors didn’t calculate an exact cost for the property tax incentives SB 136 would offer for returning cultivated land to grass.
Houdyshell said he’s working on cost estimates for the counties of Lincoln, Minnehaha, Pennington and Perkins for 50 feet and 120 feet. “We haven’t completed our analysis,” he said.
For Lincoln County, there would be 400 acres of crop-rated soils and 473 acres of grazing-rated soil. Strips 50 feet wide would reduce taxes by more than $4,000 and strips at the full 120 feet would run an estimated $11,838 in reduced taxes.
Looking at that map, it’s interesting that Marshall, Day, Clark, Hand, Hyde, Edmunds, and McPherson are almost entirely devoid of streams that would qualify for the grassy buffer strips tax incentive. However, even those low-flow counties are dotted with lakes that will qualify.
The Governor’s proposal would allow landowners to decide how wide they want to plant grass, between 50 feet and 120 feet out from the top of the stream/river bank or the lakeside vegetation line.
1) Establishes a separate classification for eligible riparian buffer strips, similar to other existing separate classifications; SB136 established no such classification – it provided a unique exemption from SDCL 10-6-33.32 [Daugaard Administration, “Riparian Buffer Strips—Bill Summary,” submitted to Ag Land Assessment Task Force, 2016.09.12].
This distinction is wordplay. Governor Daugaard contended in his SB 136 veto message that we can’t constitutionally tax land within the agricultural classification at different rates; he thus dresses his different tax rate up as a new property classification.
2) Provides a tax reduction for crop-rated and non-crop rated soils at 60% of its assessed value; SB 136 only applied to crop-rated soils and reduced them to non-crop rated soil levels [Daugaard, 2016.09.12].
A major point of SB 136 was to get farmers not to plant to the water’s edge, thus insulating lakes and streams from sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, and other pollutants. The Governor appears to be expanding the incentive to land that, with a lower soil rating, may not require as much incentive to be left to grass.
3) Identifies specific lakes and streams – already in administrative rule – to which this classification applies; SB 136 did not define which water bodies were affected [Daugaard, 2016.09.12].
This change is a straight-up improvement. We can draw the map, measure the shorelines, and figure out the maximum cost if every adjoining landowner participates.
4) Outlines the criteria properties must meet in order to qualify (vegetation type and height, grazing restrictions, etc.) that will improve water quality and better align with federal and state conservation program guidelines; SB 136 included less specific criteria [Daugaard, 2016.09.12].
This change, too, feels more substantive. Senate Bill 136 was silent on the issue of haying and grazing. The Governor’s proposal clarifies that grassy buffer strips may not be harvested or mowed until July 10 and can’t be cut shorter than six inches. It also restricts grazing from May through September, to keep cow poop out of the water during the high recreational season.
All of these issues could have been worked out in Senate Bill 136, and we could have started incentivizing good conservation and water quality practices this year. I won’t grouse much about passing this helpful environmental measure a year late… but remember: grassy buffer strips are such a good idea that even Governor Daugaard is willing to back them without knowing the total cost.
Yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army released a joint statement saying the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies have raised legitimate concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline that require further discussion. The government will invite tribes to formal talks this fall to discuss “(1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals.” The Army will not allow Dakota Access to lay pipe on Army Corps of Engineers land “bordering or under Lake Oahe” until the Corps has reviewed the project in the context of the National Environmental Protection Act and other federal laws. The feds are asking Dakota Access to “voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”
Maybe the Obama Administration wasn’t paying attention to Dakota Access earlier this week. Maybe our Constitutional scholar-in-chief was simply exercising executive restraint and allowing the judicial branch to hear out the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and issue its ruling. But yesterday’s statement makes clear that, far from forgetting the reservation he visited in 2014, President Obama has the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Dakota Access pipeline, and environmental justice very much on his mind.
The most southerly towers would be about eleven miles northeast of Newell and about 25 miles north-northeast of Bear Butte. The nearest airfields are the private Bruch Airfield 23 miles away near Sturgis and the Sturgis Municipal Airport 28 miles away. Ellsworth Air Force Base is 45 miles to the south.
Each turbine tower would be about 262 feet tall, with turbine blades about 177 feet long. With upgrades, the turbines have a lifetime of 40 years. The turbines cut out when the wind reaches 56 mph, but they are designed to withstand winds up to 133 mph. Getting to the turbines will require 26 miles of access roads, some new, some upgraded from existing roads. All power from the turbines will be carried by underground cables (at least four feet deep) to the new substation along Highway 212.
Over three quarters of the 35 square miles affected by the wind farm is high plains grassland. A sixth is used for hay or pasture. There’s more scrub land than cropland; less than 3% of the terrain is cropped. The project area includes one occupied rural residence. Construction would disrupt 331 acres in the project area; the wind turbines and other permanent facilities would occupy 109 acres, about 0.5% of the total project area.
If the Willow Creek turbines were to displace power generation from fossil fuel facilities, it could reduce pollution emissions from South Dakota power plants by 4% to 24%.
The switchyard and substation would be more than a mile from the nearest residence and thus would be inaudible. Wind turbine noise at the nearest residence would be 43.3 decibels, within the current background noise range of 33–47 decibels and below the PUC-recommended 55 decibels.
An average of 580 vehicles pass by the site on Highway 212 each day. WAPA surveyors also spotted three turtle species and five snake species in the area, none endangered or threatened. Surveyors also spotted 118 avian species, including 20 raptor species, and several bat species. Surveyors recorded no endangered whooping crane or threatened northern long-eared bat and found no critical habitat for either species in the project area. Surveyors spotted golden eagles and bald eagles in the project area, but the draft projects that the wind farm would kill no more than three eagles over thirty years. (170 sheets of the 342-page document make up the wildlife inventory and bird and bat conservation strategy.)
WAPA estimates the project will bring temporary construction jobs to the area—125 on average, 200 at peak—filled mostly by out-of-towners, since Wind Quarry, the company proposing Willow Creek, “Wind Quarry anticipates that there would not be sufficient trained local labor to fill the number of jobs available.” Lasting effects will be six wind farm jobs paying a total of $300K, plus increased property tax revenue.
Avoiding the prospect of tribal protests like those currently holding up the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Cannonball–Missouri confluence in North Dakota, WAPA contacted 25 tribes last year to seek input on possible project impacts on religious and cultural sites:
Only one tribe, the Santee Sioux, responded and accepted Western’s invitation to participate in the Section 106 consultation process (email from Rick Thomas, July 20, 2015). Western responded that same day acknowledging the Santee’s participation and asked if the tribe had any concerns or general information regarding properties of traditional religious or cultural importance that Western should consider as part of the undertaking. The tribe did not respond to Western’s request for information.
On July 28, 2015, the Oglala Sioux (email from Loni Weston cc to Dennis Yellow Thunder) requested participation in monitoring [during cultural resources survey]. On July 29, 2015, Western forwarded the tribe’s request on to Wind Quarry to make arrangements for monitoring; however, their request came too late and the survey was already completed. That same day, Western responded to the Oglala asking again if the tribe was interested in participating in the Section 106 consultation process. Although the tribe did not respond to Western’s question, Western assumed the tribe’s interest.
Representatives of the Cheyenne River Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Santee Sioux, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes all participated in the cultural resources survey, site recording, interpretation, and NRHP evaluations. On October 15, 2015, Western (via email) contacted these tribes and the Oglala Sioux stating that the cultural resources survey report would be available for review and comment in the next few weeks. None of the tribes acknowledged the email. On November 9, 2015, these tribes were provided a copy of the cultural resources survey report for review and comment (Enclosure 3), as well as comment on NRHP eligibility and Project effect findings. None of the tribes provided comments [WAPA Draft EA, July 2016, pp. 6.2–6.3].
Skunk Creek is less skunky, thanks to a joint city/state/federal effort to pay farmers to keep their cows out of the water during the best boating months:
About 60 percent of the water flowing through the still-impaired Big Sioux River comes from Skunk Creek, according to Jesse Neyens of Sioux Falls Environmental Division.
“We’re extremely happy that Skunk Creek being de-listed for total suspended solids,” Neyens said. “It shows that the work that’s been put into the watershed is paying off.”
The success story stems from a partnership, Neyens said..The city has taken out more than $5 million in state revolving fund loans to improve the Big Sioux River and Skunk Creek since 2013. Funding also has come from the federal government, the DENR and local conservation districts. The DENR set up a page on its website to outline the Skunk Creek project.
After bank improvements were completed, the focus shifted to a program called Seasonal Riparian Area Management, or S-RAM. Producers sign 10- or 15-year contracts to keep cattle out of the water through the recreation season [John Hult, “Skunk Creek Pollution Drops,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.08.11].
According to the DENR’s website on the Skunk Creek project, SRAM-eligible pasture extends from creek’s edge out to the 100-year flood plain boundary. Livestock producers get $60 per acre to not run cattle on that ground from April through September. Cattle can graze the rest of the year if the farmers maintain four to six inches of vegetation.
$60 an acre—funny. Senate Bill 136, the grassy buffer strip bill that the Governor vetoed over fiscal concerns last spring, was estimated to cost between $12 and $28.89 an acre. Plus, where the cost of SRAM is an additional budget line, SB 136 was budget-neutral: it would have lowered the property tax on participating land and balanced that loss by spreading the balance out across the much larger tracts of non-participating land.
If Sioux Falls can spend big money on voluntary incentives to improve water quality, and if the state is willing to distribute federal dollars for the purpose, why not add some more local effort through sensible ag land assessment based on actual use of the land to keep more pollution out of our water?